If we could grasp the whole of reality all at once, we would know that it is not just fair but unimaginably good and benevolent. As things stand, this grasping of the whole seems to be clearly out of our reach.Perhaps the most important reason for our inability to grasp the wholeness of reality is that we are ourselves in its midst, both temporally and spatially. In other words, we need to stand out of our present constraints of time and space in order to see the totality of which we are, right now, a small part. This means that we require a vantage point that is beyond the end of time, a moment which is currently inconceivable but which may be understood as being situated in the “afterworld,” i.e., when the unfolding of reality has already run its full course and every relevant event has already taken place. There will be no future from the perspective of that moment, only past. Such a vantage point must also be beyond the limits of space, a spaceless and directionless location — in the middle of nowhere, as they say — from which the observer may see the whole of reality in all its spatial extensions.
As things stand, this theoretical vantage point beyond the constraints of time and space is inaccessible to human beings. The inaccessibility includes both the material aspects of reality and its underlying meaning. The totality of the material universe is not visible to us, partly because we are situated inside the same universe that we are trying to observe; we cannot scrutinize the entire history of the universe either, partly because time is still flowing and an unknown amount is still hidden in the future. Add to this the all important element of meaning; to grasp the whole of reality we not only need a vantage point from which we may see all the whats and all the hows, but a vantage point from which all the whys will also make perfect sense to a rational mind. Since meanings are comprehensible only through the inter-connections of things and events, the full revelation of the totality of meaning — if it exists at all — is impossible within our current limitations of time and space.
All this is not to say that knowledge as such is impossible, only that within the constraints of our present situation any complete and full knowledge of the whole of reality appears to be safely beyond our grasp. The kind of knowledge that seems to be available is, therefore, fragmentary knowledge, i.e., knowledge of the parts and not of the whole. While we can collect and catalogue a very large number of fragmentary knowledge, it is unlikely that this will ever add up to become the complete and full knowledge of the whole of reality.
Consider the question of fairness in this background. Is reality fair? Based on the fragmentary knowledge to which we have access, we have to give an unequivocal “no” to this question. At the same time, we seem to be a species that is somehow incapable of accepting the inherent unfairness of reality. Our daily observations and experiences tell us that there may be a law-like regularity in the workings of reality but that such workings do not have any moral quality at all. We can expect regularity from the way in which gravity acts, for example, but we cannot demand fairness from it, nor any moral consideration. Yet, we resist tooth and nail the idea of an unfair, amoral reality; we insist, contrary to evidence, that reality must be fair, even that it is fair. We don’t necessarily deny the evidence; but we present another sort of evidence to support our intuition. We call it faith.
Faith may be viewed as a kind of hope. The hope for a fair reality, and even a benevolent reality, is certainly understandable as a wish; we frequently wish for what we don’t have, even for what we cannot possibly have. But how does this hope, which at best is a mere desire, is made to become a conviction? How do we leap from “X ought to be the case” and land on to “X is most certainly the case”? We encounter here either the Freudian illusion or the mystery of grace.
Even though our knowledge is fragmentary, and even though fragmentary knowledge only provides evidence for the inherent unfairness of reality, we seem to be a species that is somehow able to transcend that black hole of despair. Not only are we able to imagine a moral and meaningful dimension to reality, we are further able to reach a place of inner peace by accepting its ultimate benevolence. If we achieve this sense of meaning through the Freudian illusion, then we must accept the supreme value of this illusion as one of the most potent factors in the biological survival of the human race and the many achievements of civilization.
But even Freud granted that an illusion is only probably false, not definitely false. Some wishes do come true, even if most do not. The wish that reality turns out to be meaningful is not a wild, crazy wish born in the frustrated mind of a neurotic. It is the basic urge that makes us human.
Perhaps, then, our capacity to imagine and trust the benevolent nature of reality may not be a mistaken belief after all; instead, it may be a tantalizing reflection of the impossible-to-attain or as-yet-unperceived view of the whole of reality. We may not have access to a full view of the whole of reality, but we do seem to have some inkling of its essential nature, which is more than just fair; the true nature of reality is supremely good, benevolent, merciful, and infinitely compassionate. Faith in this view of reality assures us that, despite what the headlines may be screaming on any given day, in a very profound sense all is indeed well with the world; that things are going to be all right; that the universe is in competent hands; and that the end will be unimaginably better and happier than all that preceeds it.
This may be an illusion, but I am willing to bet that it is a true illusion.